Mrs. Universe Juanita Ingram, Esq. has spent the last 11 years living around the world as an expat. Along with her husband and their two children, ages 13 and 15, she has lived in London for almost five years, Taiwan for two years, and now Singapore for the past two years.  

Ingram is an attorney, author, and actress originally from Chattanooga, TN whose husband’s executive-level job takes the family to different countries. In addition to growing his career, the Ingrams decided to become expats in order to give their children the opportunity to see the world, shape their worldview, and create a sense of global citizenship and belonging.

From these opportunities, the family has been able to visit over 28 countries together, broadening their experience and exposure to other cultures. For Mrs. Universe and her family, the expat lifestyle means freedom.

Juanita Ingram and family in Singapore. Image: Courtesy of The Ingrams

“It means taking control and agency of my well-being and the well-being of my family,” Ingram says. “It means taking a break from racially abusive experiences within the US that are not just uncomfortable, but have often grown increasingly confrontational. You cannot outrun racism; every country has its pros and cons. But you can choose to live in environments where the microaggressions are far less frequent and less confrontational. Singapore is one such place.”

Her current home country is also her favorite due to its extreme cleanliness, its reputation as one of the safest countries in the world, and the way in which the Southeast Asian nation embraces and encourages diversity, inclusivity, and racial harmony. 

Wanting to document and share their experiences as a Black expat family, they created a reality series, The Expats: International Ingrams

“I knew that this show could be a powerful vehicle of the impact and change we need to see for Black people. I wanted BIPOC people to know, consider, and explore their options.” 

Realizing the importance of Black people controlling their own narratives in the media, Ingram wanted to be sure to present a genuine and authentic depiction of the experiences shared. The series offers insight into the many diverse facets of life abroad through cross-cultural exchanges. 

If you are considering taking the leap and moving abroad with your family, take note of the following tips from the current Mrs. Universe and her experience as a serial expat mom.

Do your research

Cost of living, housing, quality of education, language barriers, and quality of life are just some of the many things to take into consideration. 

“You should also research where we as Black people feel welcomed and safe, and where our presence is normalized,” she suggests. “Though you will never outrun racism completely, it becomes far less abusive when living outside the US.” 

Schools vary across regions

After moving abroad, she realized the required procedures differ greatly from country to country.

“In some countries, like the UK, the process feels more akin to registration and is fairly lacking in complexity. In other countries throughout Asia, you are truly engaging in a complex application process and admission into an American school is not guaranteed," shares Ingram. "There are many things to consider, so ask as many questions as you can. Start the application process early; some schools require that you apply a year in advance.”

Join Black expat affinity groups

Moving to a new country involves a great deal of change as you step out of your comfort zone and leave your home behind. At times, it can be lonely and isolating. However, joining groups allows you to meet like-minded people who have been through the process and know what you are experiencing.

“There are numerous affinity groups that you can join before you move that will connect you with people who are living abroad and provide a wealth of information that you need to assist you in your decisions,” the Singapore expat explains. “Some of my favorites are Xpats Chats (an app specifically for Black expats), Black Americans Living Abroad (Facebook and Instagram groups), and Blaxit Global (Patreon.) There are also Black expat Facebook groups for most countries, such as Black in Portugal, Black in Japan, etc.”

Suggestions for accompanying spouses

Trailing Spouse Syndrome affects the mental health of a person who is accompanying their spouse on a career-based relocation. For people in this situation, the current Mrs. Universe suggests taking time before you move to map out what you are going to do with your time.

“You should ask yourself what it will take to fully embrace and emerge oneself in the international experience, and what this means for your career. Taking the time to do that before you move will help give you direction," says Ingram. "The best investment that I made was in a life coach when I first moved abroad. She helped me get a clear identity and mission and truly embrace the new season that I was in.” 

Face forward, don’t look back, embrace change!

During your journey, it is important to embrace change and all that comes with it. Appreciate how far you’ve come and look forward to your future.

“The only things that are not growing are things that are dead," Mrs. Universe tells EBONY. "Look forward to the opportunities ahead, and don’t get stuck looking back at the things you gave up. A new season waits in your life–embrace and cherish it!”